Kolkata: Two buildings collapsed in the capital of West Bengal Tuesday as the Kolkata Metro Rail Corporation (KMRC) bored an underground tunnel in the congested Bowbazar area.
The buildings were among 18 in the area that developed cracks after the agency, overseen by the Union railway ministry, began work in Bowbazar for the East-West Metro project.
A portion of a house had caved in as well Saturday.
More than 250 residents of the area were evacuated Monday and their houses sealed as the cracks were discovered.
In the ensuing chaos, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee visited the area Monday evening. On Tuesday, she held a high-level meeting at Nabanna, the temporary state secretariat, to discuss the matter with senior officials of the East-West Metro project and the Kolkata Municipal Corporation, besides the state urban development minister, the commissioner of the Kolkata Police, and representatives from the affected locality.
Project to be delayed further
The East-West Metro project was launched in 2009 with the objective of connecting Kolkata and Howrah, which fall on either side of the river Hooghly, as well as linking west and east Kolkata, since the existing Metro line connects the north to the south. The line will have both elevated and underground stretches.
The service, divided into two phases, was supposed to be launched in August 2019, but has missed some deadlines. The first phase is currently undergoing trial runs, while the construction for the second is underway. This is the line on which the affected buildings in central Kolkata’s Bowbazar fall.
A senior official of the KMRC said Tuesday’s collapse would delay the project by another year at least.
“This is a rarest-of-rare incident. We never anticipated this. All sorts of tests were done before starting work in the area,” the official added. “In fact, this has never happened anywhere in the world. We are not able to control the underground water pockets. Water is gushing out during tunnelling work. Our first priority is to arrest the water flow.”
“Our equipment is also stuck inside,” the official said. “The area is so congested that we are not able to retrieve it. We are getting experts from Singapore and other places. Because of this, project work will be delayed by a year at least.”
Work on other stretches of the project has been carried out without major issues — including the construction of tunnels under the Hooghly, which were completed a month ago without any major issue.
Bowbazar, the site of the collapse, is one of Kolkata’s most congested areas. According to engineers and other experts contacted by ThePrint, the average age of houses in the area is around 120 to 150 years.
Most of these houses are in a dilapidated state, and some have already been declared “dangerous” by the Kolkata Municipal Corporation.
Local residents told ThePrint that before construction work for the Metro line began,the authorities informed them through notices that crack meters would be installed on their houses, and, if needed, they would be evacuated.
Meanwhile, Chief Minister Banerjee said the administration will not let the mishap take partisan tones despite her strained relationship with the Centre.
“There will not be any politics on this. We are not going to find out whose fault it was and who should be blamed,” she told the media. “The Metro authorities have assured us that they will reconstruct the damaged buildings. People who lost houses or shops in the area will get their houses back once the work is done. Till then, the Metro authorities will arrange for their stay in hotels or rented apartments. We are working on this together.”
Infrastructure projects in Kolkata have often courted headlines for accidents.
In March 2016, an under-construction flyover near Posta in central Kolkata collapsed, killing more than 30 people and leaving more than 100 critically injured. In September 2018, the 50-year-old Majerhat bridge collapsed in south Kolkata, killing three people. Both the flyovers are still being rebuilt.